When should an A/E be contacted to offer specification assistance?

Posted by on July 17, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on When should an A/E be contacted to offer specification assistance?

(Article 3 of the series on “Becoming an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep who Develops Specifications with Architects and Engineers”)   It is important to understand the complete design process and how construction documents are developed to understand when the architect or engineer (A/E) needs to be contacted by an independent manufacturers’ rep to offer specification assistance. A very simplified description of the design process is comprised of the following phases: Schematic Design – a client’s design objectives are discussed. Alternative approaches to design and construction are developed. Design Development – constructability and integration of products and systems become defined. Construction Documents – final architectural drawings and specifications are developed. The specifications are written during this phase. Often the A/E will call a trusted advisor rep if he needs specification assistance. If he does not, or if a rep is not well established with a particular A/E office, a challenge for a rep is when to make contact to offer assistance for a particular product a rep is working to get specified. The timing depends partially on the type of product. If the product is highly technical or if it is important to the aesthetics, constructability, and final performance of the project, it normally will be necessary for the rep to introduce his product during the design phase. Although the specification will not be written until the later construction documents, the product must be incorporated into the project design for the rep to be asked to help with the specifications. If the product does not meet the criteria above, such as a commodity type product, the appropriate time to offer specification assistance is during the construction document phase. With this understood, it leads us to our next question, addressed in Article 4, “How does an independent manufacturers’ rep for architectural products become a trusted advisor?” Questions so far? Scott Lau Consulting is ready to be a trusted advisor for you. Contact Scott...

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What are Product Specifications and How are They Created?

Posted by on March 20, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on What are Product Specifications and How are They Created?

(Article 2 of the series on “Becoming an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep Who Develops Specifications with Architects and Engineers“) One of the most important aspects of marketing to architects and engineers (A/E’s) and getting a rep’s products specified is to fully understand the complete construction process and then realize how product specifications fit into this process. Sitting for testing to receive a CDT (Construction Documents Technician) is a critical step. This certification is highly respected by A/E’s. It provides a rep the in-depth knowledge he or she needs and helps open doors into A/E’s offices. Contact Construction Specification Institute (CSI), 110 S Union St #100, Alexandria, VA 22314 for test and certification information. Specifications define the qualitative requirements for products, materials, and workmanship upon which the project contract is based. They are normally written by in-house specification writers, project managers, or outside specification writers for the purpose of deciding which type of specification(s) they will use for a particular project. There are four basic types of product specifications:   Descriptive   Performance   Reference Standard   Proprietary Descriptive Specifications These specify properties of materials and methods of installation. Neither manufacturers nor product names are listed. Since detail technical product knowledge is required, it is the type of specification where a manufacturers’ rep can be invaluable in assisting the A/E to provide the correct product information. Performance Specifications These specify desired product performance results and how those results will be measured and verified. Neither manufacturers nor product names are used. This type specification allows the contractor flexibility in selecting products to be used. If the A/E and his client are interested in using new and innovative products, this type of specification is a good one to use. Reference Standard Specifications These specify products and processes by well-recognized industry standards. Proprietary Specifications These specify manufacturers, product names, specific model numbers and other unique characteristics about a product. Additionally, specs are referred to as being “open” or “closed.” If a proprietary specification is “closed,” one product can be named, or several products can be named as options. A “closed” proprietary specification often does not allow substitutions. In an “open” proprietary specification, alternative acceptable products are listed. Substitutions can be proposed by bidders, but the substitutions must be approved by the (A/E). In either an open or closed specification, one product may be designated as the “design standard.” This gives bidders additional information about the quality expected, if substitutions are submitted for approval. When a rep has an opportunity to assist an A/E in writing a specification, it is very important to remember two basic rules of product specification writing: The specification is to be Clear, Concise, Correct, and Complete Conform to the writing style and format of the author of the specification and his firm. A powerful reference for more information, used for this article is the CSI Construction Product Representation Practice Guide, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. With this understood, it leads us to our next question, addressed in Article 3, “When should an A/E be contacted to offer specification assistance?” Questions so far? Scott Lau Consulting is ready to be a trusted adviser for you. Contact Scott...

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Becoming an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep Who Develops Specifications with Architects and Engineers

Posted by on March 4, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Becoming an Independent Manufacturers’ Rep Who Develops Specifications with Architects and Engineers

Introduction One of the most important responsibilities of an independent manufacturers’ rep for architectural products is working with architects and engineers (A/E) to review their product specifications and assist them in modifying them for individual projects. Well-written specifications are critical to the construction of buildings that fully meet the needs and objectives of an A/E’s clients. If there is a conflict between specifications and drawings in the construction documents, the specifications take legal precedent over the drawings. An A/E will only call on a rep for specifications assistance when the rep has developed a high level of technical and ethical confidence with the A/E. To become a trusted adviser like this takes time and a demonstrated commitment to provide honest advice and service. For further background information, an excellent survey discussing A/E specifications is found in the Architect Digest’s article, “The Truth About Specifications,” but how does an independent manufacturers’ rep for architectural products get to the place where the conversation can even begin? My five-part series on Independent Rep & Architects and Engineers Relationships covers: Why is it important for a manufactures’ product to be included in the specification? What are Product Specifications and How are They Created? When should an A/E be contacted to offer specification assistance? How does an independent manufacturers’ rep for architectural products become a trusted adviser? How does an independent manufacturers’ rep assist architects with specification writing? Let’s start with the first of these questions. Why is it important for a manufactures’ product to be included in the specification? Specifications are developed by the A/E to describe the products and systems that are to be used in a project to meet their client’s requirements for quality and performance. The project builder—be it a general contractor, construction manager, or other entity—is expected to provide pricing based on the specifications. Admittedly, they often do not follow the specifications. The builder and his subcontractors submit and use products with which they are familiar, which are more accessible or cheaper, or which make sense to them for many other reasons. At the same time, the builders and subcontractors understand that it makes life easier for them, as well as for the A/E who must approve substitutions, if they do use a product that is included in the specification. If a rep’s product is not in the specifications, the rep, his manufacturer, the subcontractor, and the builder must go through an arduous process of obtaining A/E approval of a substitution. This is called “back dooring” a product into the project. Not only is this time-consuming for the builder and subcontractor, it is time-consuming for the rep and his manufacturer as well as the A/E. The process takes away from selling time. Back-dooring is not good for a manufacturer, nor is it a way to develop strong, personal working relationships with the A/E or any of the other parties involved in a project. With this understood, it leads us to our next question, addressed in Article 2, “What are Product Specifications and How are They Created?” Questions so far? Scott Lau Consulting is ready to be a trusted adviser for you as a trusted adviser. Contact Scott...

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Building Positive Relationships with Rep Principals – 8 Tactics to Bring You Closer Together

Posted by on June 13, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Building Positive Relationships with Rep Principals – 8 Tactics to Bring You Closer Together

An independent manufacturers’ representative in the building materials industry must maintain strong relationships with the principals they represent to be successful and profitable. This relationship is critically important with primary principals whose product sales represent a large share of a rep’s business, yet it is also important to build relationships with those secondary, smaller manufacturers, whose products are complimentary to the primary principals. A strategy for building these principal relationships needs to be developed and maintained. To be smart, any independent manufacturers’ representative should always remember the following eight tactics: Agree on a fair contract Maintain regular communications Act as an employee Treat the customer service group as a customer Follow company procedures Aggressively market to architects, engineers and end users Travel with the sales manager Maintain an appropriate number principals These ideas might sound simple, but by putting effort forward in these areas, a manufacturer’s rep is significantly more likely to succeed. I have spent over 40 years as an independent manufacturers’ representative in the building materials industry representing both U.S. manufacturers as well as a few international ones.  Although each manufacture operates differently the common thread that connects them is the importance of building personal business relationships with them as well as with their customers. Most of my career has been representing manufacturers of architectural products.  This has been both challenging and rewarding since it required balance of time and effort marketing to architects as well as handling orders and service with the buying customers. The eight tactics discussed are ones I used over the years from trial and error experiences as well as from discussions with other successful reps during manufacturers sales meetings and building industry conventions and seminars.  These tactics generally work with principals producing commodity products as well as architectural products. Let’s look at each of these tactics one-by-one. Agree on a Fair Rep Contract Most manufacturers in the building materials industry use contracts with manufacturers’ representatives that have a clause stating that either party can cancel the agreement for any reason with just a 30-day notice. Although contracts vary regarding how long a terminated rep can collect commissions, in the real world this is negotiable. Manufacturers might consider how many years the rep has had his contract. Most importantly, the time allowed is based on the rep/principal relationship and how the rep has performed over the years. Because of these one-sided termination clauses, much has been written about rep contracts for the building materials industry as well as many other industries. One of the best sources for additional information is the Manufacturers’ Agents National Association (MANA). Maintain Regular Communications As is true in all relationships, the proper level and type of communications is critical. The sales manager expects and deserves to fully understand what is happening in a rep’s geographic territory. If the line of communication is not active, the sales manager has reason to suspect that a rep may not be doing the work the manufacturer expects. Maintaining strong communications with principals has many components. One way to start off on the right foot is to set sales goals and market development activities at the beginning of each year that meet both the principals’ and a rep’s business objectives. Large manufacturers often set these goals with little or no input from the...

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Marketing Building Materials – Will Your Company be a Disrupter

Posted by on May 15, 2017 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Marketing Building Materials – Will Your Company be a Disrupter

Overview What is “disruptive marketing”? Why is it important for any manufacturer of building materials products to be successful moving forward? Will your company be a disrupter in the building materials industry? At its core, disruptive marketing is a return to the personal with an online twist. It shakes things up by changing customer perceptions about not just the company—but the industry as a whole. Some say that disruptive marketing doesn’t have a concrete meaning because it is always based on the context of the surrounding world. Are companies in the building materials industry prepared to radically change the way they develop and market their products? In a 2015 study discussed in Forbes Magazine, twenty-five companies were considered to be at the top of the list of marketing disrupters. Not one of them was part of the building materials industry or any other part of the construction industry! The construction industry is inefficient compared to most other parts of our economy. Late in the last century while many American manufacturers were adopting lean manufacturing methods, the construction industry, by and large, continued to construct buildings as they had for decades. Some innovative products were introduced, and some new construction methods were adopted; however, none of them were truly disruptive. The article “Is Disruptive Innovation Possible in the Construction Industry” presents an Australian view on this subject. Looking at a concrete example, the digital age brought disruption to the photographic industry. Kodak, however, did not change. In twenty years, they went from the fourth most valuable brand in the world to bankruptcy. As another example, in the 1980s and 1990s, the personal computer put a stop to Digital Equipment Corporation, Wang Laboratories, and other minicomputer makers. There is good news. Disruptive products and disruptive marketing are still in their infancy in most U.S. industries. Companies that continue to market and do business-as-usual are not that far behind yet, but they will fall behind or go out of business soon if they do not begin thinking how they can be disrupters.   Take Action Now Is your company a leader or a follower? Are you prepared for digital disruption or are you planning to be a disrupter? Developing close personal relationships with a high degree of transparency with customers is one of the most important aspects of disruptive marketing. Building material manufacturers must carefully listen to their key customers to learn what these customers need to innovate in their market and quickly develop products or services to satisfy those needs. What manufacturers hear from customers may mean scrapping products that have been a core, profitable part of a manufacturer’s business over the years but will soon become obsolete, if the manufacturer does not act quickly. Customers can not only help manufacturers develop disruptive products; they can also help market these products through shared positive experiences using social media. In a recent Mckinsey & Company study, Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, said, “Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly.” For another thought-provoking Mckinsey Consulting article, see “An Incumbents Guide to Digital Disruption.” To gain a clearer understanding of what it takes for a company in the building materials industry to become a true “disrupter,” the article 10 Disruptive Marketing Trends All Marketers Should Consider is...

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Substituting Building Material Products

Posted by on January 9, 2017 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Substituting Building Material Products

Substituting building material products prior to bid is an important responsibility of the sales team of any building material manufacturer. No matter how effective a salesman is in marketing to architects, it is impossible for him to know all the players involved in writing specifications in an architect’s office on each and every project. In a majority of projects, the architect wants substitution requests prior to bid, because the owner is interested in receiving bids to obtain the lowest price/best value. Additionally, after a bid, it is easier to close sales with a subcontractor, distributor, or general contractor if a salesman’s product is listed in the specification. When a salesman’s product is not listed in the specifications, what is the best plan to become listed? There are effective practices to this process. Here’s what I suggest. How to submit a substitution prior to bid Make the substitution request at least two weeks in advance of the bid date to allow sufficient time for the architect to review the submittal. It is normally more effective to send the request directly to the project architect. Some architects will not review products prior to bid for any number of reasons, but there is normally a better chance for a response from an architect than a general contractor. The closer the relationship a salesman has with the architect, the better the chance of a response and/or approval to be listed. If the salesman is a trusted advisor, the chance for approval is the highest. Respect the architect’s work and work load. Make a complete submittal with the substitution request  to clearly demonstrate that your product is truly equal to the design standard of one of the products listed in the specification. It should be clear and concise so the architect can review it in a reasonable amount of time. Use the form provided in the specification if there is one. If there is not, use the standard AIA form in the General Requirements, normally in Section 01600. It is not practical in many cases to meet the specification item for item, but the submittal must clearly demonstrate that the submitted product fully meets the intent of the specification. Be aware of the type of specification when preparing the substitution request. Whether it is a proprietary, performance, or open specification, submit the substitution request accordingly. If it is a closed specification, do not make a submittal. Any substitution should be made after the bid. Assemble a complete standard submittal package that can be modified to fit the specifics of the job for the sake of efficiency. Review addenda to check if your product becomes listed. If your product is not listed in an addendum, contact the project architect by telephone or email one week prior to the bid to check on the status of the substitution review process and to ask if there are any questions or clarifications needed. A bid can still be submitted when the architects’ office or the project specifications state there will be no product reviews prior to the bid if the salesman and the manufacturer believe their product is truly equal. There are many reasons a request for substitution does not result in a product being listed in the specification, but the bid becomes less risky the closer the...

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Should Sales Teams use Email, Telephone or Personal Visits?

Posted by on October 20, 2016 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Should Sales Teams use Email, Telephone or Personal Visits?

In the construction industry, it seems more and more communication is by email, whether conversations are interoffice, between companies, or by sales teams with customers. Using primarily email communication may seem to make us more efficient, but that assumption may not hold water. Our inboxes are swamped. One study indicated that the average person across all industries receives an average of 115 emails per day. The study indicated that 57% of people do not even read all their emails! Many are simply trashed. How efficient is that? The use of primarily email communication is led by millennials, but even older, more experienced employees are depending more on emails instead of a telephone call or personal visit. This habit is particularly questionable in many instances for sales teams and customer service. Even interoffice emailing should be seriously evaluated. Either telephoning or a meeting in person concerning a question or inquiry is often a more effective use of time than emailing. For the sales team the customer’s preferences should be the primary governing factor in how we communicate. Developing strong personal relationships is the driving force for generating growing sales. People still buy from people they know and like. Customers are interested in quality products and service from manufacturers more than the efficiency of a manufacturer’s management team. Personal visits for the professional sales person are the most important method of communication, because they strengthen personal relationships. They should be used as often as possible and in-line with a customer’s preferences. Personal visits allow for the clearest understanding of a customer’s needs. Misunderstandings are minimized. How can a sales person interpret body language, learn what makes a customer tick, and strengthen relationships using email? If a personal visit is not warranted or practical, a telephone call is the next, best way to communicate with customers. The customer support team should use the telephone as often as possible rather than email. This is particularly true when clarifying details of an order or solving a customer’s problem. The danger of the trend toward email being the predominant method of communication is that a single email often generates a long string of email exchanges back and forth.  Often, a simple telephone call can solve a problem in a couple of minutes and save time for both parties. Telephone calls also minimize the chance for miscommunications and misunderstandings. Each call is an opportunity to learn new information about a customer to continue developing that strong relationship. One challenge of telephone communication in the current business environment is that it leads to voice mails. Like emails, voicemail has reduced human interaction. With voicemail, the caller never knows when the voicemail will be answered, if at all. Customers normally need answers to their questions promptly. Either the employee or an assistant/ receptionist answering the telephone is best for the customer. I know one manufacturer who has changed back from corporate voice mail to a receptionist with very positive results. In some industries voice mail has been eliminated altogether. Although texting is not yet widely used in the construction industry, sending a short text can be used to set up the time and length of a telephone call or meeting. Sending a text message is better than voice mail, because texting normally solicits a response of some sort...

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Communication Begins with Listening

Posted by on August 23, 2016 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Communication Begins with Listening

Listening is one of the most important skills of a professional sales person. If a sales person does not fully understand his customer’s needs and problems, there is no way to provide the highest value product and/or service to satisfy those needs or provide the solutions to his problems. To clearly understand his customers, the sales person must listen. To develop and strengthen strong personal relationships, careful, attentive listening is critical. For the majority of sales people, listening does not come naturally. Sales people love to talk, but while talking, one cannot listen. Learning good listening skills is important; honing them is even more critical. Active listening takes concentration and hard work. It is a complex process, and a conscious intellectual effort is required to become proficient. Why are good listening skills essential for a professional sales person? Remember, listening: Aids in the creation and growth of strong, personal relationships. Customers buy from people they like and trust. Sets professional top producers even further apart from their competition. Gives customers a positive impression of the salesperson, because they know their questions and problems are clearly understood. Assists in closing more sales because the sales person can offer the right product or service to satisfy the customer’s needs. Makes selling more fun. A sales person can look to hundreds of books and read online countless lists of what it takes to  become a better listener; however, after 50 years in marketing and sales, here is my list. How to be a better listener: Make a brief outline before each telephone or personal sales call, whether on paper or in your head. When your objectives are clear in your mind, you can concentrate more fully on listening. Clear your head. Do not carry in preconceived thoughts or prejudices. Make brief notes. This shows your customer you want to remember what he is saying. It also demonstrates interest in what he is talking about. Constantly think, “did I hear what he said correctly?” Not only listen to needs and problems to be solved, but listen for solutions. Many times customers indicate how they want their needs met or problem solved. Listen for what is not said or what your customer is implying. For many reasons they may not want to state what exact price they need, but the way words and gestures are combined, they often provide this information if you actively listen. Ask for clarification if it seems there are conflicting statements. Ask questions such as, “If I understand you correctly…” or “Tell me more…” Do not argue or rebut statements. The old adage “the customer is always right” is the best philosophy to employ to actively listen. At the end of a conversation, a clarifying comment can be appropriate to be sure your customer knows where you stand on points where you disagree. Give full attention to your customer. Do not let your mind wander to places outside the sales environment. Keep making eye contact. Watch for body language to confirm your customer remains engaged. Return positive body language like nodding your head and appropriate facial expressions to demonstrate you understand and are interested. Stay relaxed. Do not interrupt. After your customer finishes a thought, take three to four seconds before you answer. This also provides time to assemble a...

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7 Essential Traits of Top Building Materials Sales Producers

Posted by on March 18, 2016 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 7 Essential Traits of Top Building Materials Sales Producers

Any manufacturer of building materials must have a professional, high producing sales team. Nothing can be manufactured until a salesperson sells something. From all the applicants who think they can sell, how does a sales manager spot the relatively few that can become top building materials sales producers? What personal traits and skills do the leading sales people possess? The traits discussed here may be applicable to many sales teams, but the unique conditions of the building materials industry present its own challenges. There are many studies by psychologists, marketing consultants, and others in academia on the characteristics of a successful salesperson. Opinions vary widely. In a study by Herbert Greenberg, out of nearly 20 million sales professionals, a mere 20% account for 80% of all sales. From conversations with customers, other industry professionals, and experience with manufacturers, only about 5% of all sales people are true professionals and top sales producers. The 20% are still an important part of a sales team, because they contribute to total sales, but the top 5% are the sales professionals that can generate consistently high sales volumes. (For further reading, “Secrets of Top Sales Achievers” is an interesting reference article discussing this top 5% group.) After almost 40 years of operating a successful independent manufacturers’ representative business and having observed the selling characteristics of hundreds of independent reps as well as direct hire sales people, here are my seven most important traits and skills of top building materials sales producers. Passion Sales passion is tunnel vision focused on customers. Top producers have a passion to gain a total and clear understanding of the needs and problems their customers want resolved. They then initiate an action plan to provide a high value product and/or service to meet their customers’ needs within a specified time frame. A high degree of empathy as well as a highly-practiced skill of intensive listening are required. When a top producer fails to close a sale, he feels he did not fully serve his customer. He did not explain the benefits clearly enough to build a sufficient value for his customer to make a positive buying decision. He evaluates the reasons why he failed, so he can improve his sales techniques and presentation skills. Positive Attitude and Self Image of Success There is no place for negativity for a top building material sales producer. There is no challenge or need too difficult to meet. It is this trait that gives customers supreme confidence that the solution to their needs will be delivered as promised and any problems will be resolved promptly and fairly. Top building materials sales producers must have a certain level of ego as part of their personality. This ego is required to assure the customer that no one else can satisfy his needs as well or as efficiently. Self-Starter The top sales producers do not need a nudge to get started each day. They are normally up early and work with a high level of energy throughout the day. Accomplishments are what count, not just activities. They are goal-oriented and highly organized with specific targets set for each day, month, and year. All targets and actions are aimed squarely at providing total customer satisfaction. They work tirelessly to improve their presentation and sales techniques. They seek out coaching and...

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10 Steps for Managing Customers to Maximize Architectural Sales Success

Posted by on October 14, 2015 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 10 Steps for Managing Customers to Maximize Architectural Sales Success

The professional architectural sales representative of construction products is continually seeking better ways to manage his customers to maximize sales.  How do you know which customers to call on when, and how often? How do you stay organized amid your phone calls, sales visits, paperwork, and planning? Managing your customers is not complicated. It takes organizing and time management skills to develop a plan suitable to meet your sales goals. Finally it requires a focus and personal commitment to follow the plan. 10 Proven Ideas to Manage Customers and Maximize Sales Organizing a sales calling plan must begin with a full understanding of a manufacturer’s market plan and sales goals for its sales representatives. The type and number of customers that a sales representative must call on must be appropriate to meet the sales goals specified in the plan. Use a modified 80/20 rule, referred to as the Pareto Principle, as a guide to establishing customers who should receive the major focus of time and effort. A general rule of thumb is that in any customer data base, approximately 20% of customers will generate 80% of total sales. The specific customers that comprise the 20% are not static. Revaluate classifications annually (or more often if necessary). Do not forget the remaining 80%. Although the top 20% must get the most attention, every customer can and should be significant. Use the letters A, B, and C to classify customers. The A customers are the top 20% that generate approximately 80% of sales. The B group generates approximately 10%-15% of total sales; and the C group generates the balance. The 80/20 rule also applies to the time spent with each category of customer. About 80% of a sales representative’s time should be spent servicing the A customers. The B group requires about 10% -15% of time, and the C group the balance of time. Do not to spend a disproportionate amount of time with B and C customers, because they happen to be more likeable or they create fewer problems than A customers. Establish strong personal relationships particularly with  A customers. Strong personal relationships can overcome many objections such as price or an occasional missed delivery. Customers normally buy from the architectural sales representative they like and respect. Building these relationships take time and effort. Keep an accurate record of what is discussed on each personal visit and telephone call, particularly regarding commitments and subjects that foster a personal relationship.  Recording takes time, but it is critical for sales success and maximizing sales. Use the correct CRM.  Historically Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems have not been widely used in the construction industry, but that is changing.  See an article from the AGC of America, “Does CRM Matter for Construction?” If a manufacturer uses a particular CRM system, the architectural sales representative must use that prescribed system. If a sales representative has a choice, select the simplest system that provides the information needed to track both sales and service history as well as important interactions with each customer. Sales Force and Outlook are examples of two sophisticated CRM systems that are used by manufacturers.  If your need is simply to keep track of contacts, addresses, and appointments, Google’s gmail suite, a free suite of tools, may be all you need. Organize a personal...

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